From rolling vineyards and plunging canyons to towering sand dunes and majestic villages, here are the most breathtaking places to visit in France.
There’s a reason why France is the most visited country on the planet. Not only does it boast some of the most exquisite wines and cuisine in the world, but also some of the most beautiful destinations. Indeed, wherever you travel within l’Hexagone, there are countless scenes that will take your breath away. From rolling vineyards and plunging canyons to towering sand dunes and majestic villages, there is plenty to satisfy curious travelers.
With so much to see and do, however, choosing which places to visit in France can feel overwhelming. So, to help you whittle down your options, here are our favorite picks to inspire your travel bucket list.
1. Champagne: home of Dom Pérignon
Let’s face it, a roundup of the best places to visit in France wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the birthplace of bubbly. Located in the northeast of France, just a 1.5 hour’s drive from Paris, the Champagne region is an absolute must-visit for anyone who loves sipping on bubbles. Just watching the sun set over the idyllic rolling vineyards and dreamy landscape is reason enough to visit the region. That said, those who do wish to sample the fruits of the land can embark on a tour of one of the prestigious Champagne houses. And this is sure to make for an unforgettable experience – or perhaps not, if they choose to overindulge!
Moët & Chandon, Veuve Cliquot, Taittinger, and Dom Pérignon, are among the famous houses that open their gates to the public. The latter is best known for its namesake; a Benedictine monk and important quality pioneer for Champagne wine. Contrary to popular belief, however, Dom Pérignon didn’t invent the famous wine itself. This is one of the many facts you will learn while visiting his cellar and final resting place in the Abbey of Hautvillers.
2. Provence: the land of lavender
Every summer, the seemingly endless ocean of lavender fields makes Provence one of the most beautiful – not to mention, fragrant – places to visit in France. The heavenly scented crop can be found almost everywhere in the region during this time. That said, some of the most scenic spots to enjoy it include the Valensole Plateau, the Sault Plateau, and the Luberon Valley. For the ultimate postcard shot, however, nothing beats the flower fields surrounding the Notre-Dame de Sénanque Abbey. Nestled in the tranquil countryside near the village of Gordes, the stunning 12th-century church is shrouded in a sea of purple every June and July.
These lavender fields are lovingly tended – along with the honeybees – by the monks that live in the abbey. Visitors can stay there and enjoy a serene spiritual retreat, too. If you prefer to keep it to a day trip, though, the fields are open from 09:30 during the summertime; and 13:00 on Sundays. Just bear in mind that the unique beauty of the location means that it becomes extremely busy during this time. Therefore, make sure you arrive early and join the first tour of the day at 10:30.
3. Gorges du Verdon: the “Grand Canyon of France”
If a trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona feels like too much of a stretch, then you could always settle for its French counterpart. Nestled in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of southeastern France, the 700-meter-deep Gorges du Verdon is a truly breathtaking sight to behold. Carved by the Verdon River, the plunging limestone canyon is the largest in Europe. It is also a hotspot for adrenaline-fuelled activities and watersports.
Cruising along the 25km-long stretch of mesmerizing turquoise waters that flow into the artificial Lac de Sainte-Croix is an absolute must. More adventurous travelers might also brave an hour or two of white-water rafting along the rapids. A more relaxing experience can be had hiking around the 100km rim of the canyon. Alternatively, you can hop on horseback and weave your way through the vertical limestone cliffs. Whatever you go for, though, be sure to have your camera at the ready. After all, this is one of the most breathtaking places to visit in France.
4. Mont Saint-Michel: the real-life Rapunzel’s Tower
France is home to many beautiful villages. However, few are as enchanting and otherworldly as Mont Saint-Michel with its majestic abbey. Perched high on the rocky island of Mont Saint-Michel, some 600 meters off the coast of Normandy, the striking medieval monastery looks like something lifted straight from the pages of a children’s fairytale. This is made all the more magic by the narrow, winding streets and pretty timbered-framed houses that lead up to it. In fact, the magnificent setting actually inspired Rapunzel’s Tower and the Kingdom of Corona in Disney’s Tangled movie.
The majestic island village once served as a great Christian pilgrim site back in the 8th century. Today, however, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts more than three million tourists a year. Needless to say, it remains one of the most popular places to visit in France, outside of Paris. That said, the vast ocean and sandbank that surround the island certainly make it seem less inviting. The fact that it becomes completely secluded when the tides are very high adds even more to its mystery. Thankfully, most travelers today can reach the island by crossing a 2,500-foot-long bridge. If they are feeling adventurous, however, they can traverse the treacherous mudflats when the ocean recedes during low tide.
5. Dune du Pilat: Europe’s tallest sand dune
Nature lovers will no doubt enjoy lapping up the breathtaking 360-degree views from the top of the Dune du Pilat; the tallest sand dune in Europe. Located in La Teste-de-Buch in the Arcachon Bay area, the magnificent natural wonder is one of the most famous places to visit in France. Indeed, every year, more than one million people come to climb the 154 wooden steps to the top and walk along the 2.7km-long ridge.
And with the sparkling Atlantic Ocean on one side and deep green pine forests on the other, the effort is certainly worth it. Indeed, the towering dune offers some of the most beautiful natural views in Europe. Dune du Pilat is also a hotspot for paragliders and other outdoor sports enthusiasts. The five nearby campsites also make it popular among campers. If you fancy cooling down after your victorious ascent, then Corniche Beach provides a refreshing spot to enjoy a dip. This lies at the foot of the dune and is easily accessible through its main entrance.
6. Saint-Tropez: the land of luxury
If you’re seeking the decadent life – or at least looking to dabble your toes in it – then a visit to Saint-Tropez is definitely in order. This beautiful sun-drenched coastal resort on the French Riviera is – after all – renowned for its designer boutiques, immaculate sandy beaches, and yacht-hopping celebrities. Originally a sleepy fishing village on the Côte d’Azur, the small town became a land of luxury in the late 19th century; thanks to Impressionist painter Paul Signac and other great artists like Henri Matisse and Albert Marquet.
It wasn’t until Hollywood bombshell Brigette Bardot strutted onto the scene in the 1950s, however, that Saint-Tropez gained international fame. The resort was the setting of such films as Et Dieu Créa la Femme (And God Created Woman). Despite its reputation as being a playground for the wealthy, however, the town still manages to retain its original charm; especially if you visit out of the high season. Beyond the glitz and the glamour, older locals still play boules in the Place des Lices. Others, meanwhile, sip on café au lait along the picturesque harbor. And whether you want to sun yourself on the famous Pampelonne Beach, explore the six quaint villages on the rocky Saint-Tropez peninsula, or lap up fantastic views from the hilltop town of Ramatuelle, there is plenty to fill your day.
7. Rocamadour: a sacred hilltop village
There’s a reason why the enchanting hilltop village of Rocamadour is the second most visited attraction in France, after Mont-Saint-Michel. Perched high on the side of a limestone cliff overlooking the Alzou canyon in the Dordogne region, the sacred village is nothing less than majestic. The UNESCO-listed medieval town was once an important pilgrimage site and famous for its sanctuaries. It is also home to a 15th-century statue of the Black Madonna which stands within the Chapel of Notre Dame.
Visitors can visit the chapel, along with seven other religious buildings, after climbing the 216 steps (Le Grand Escalier) to the square at the top. Amazingly, these were once climbed by pilgrims on their knees! From the top of the village, the view of Rocamadour, the Alzou canyon, and the wild and unspoiled landscape below are second to none. Needless to say, it is well worth breaking a sweat for. If you have time, you can also hop on a boat ride in the nearby Gouffre de Padirac. Gigantic rock formations, underground pools, and huge stalactites and stalagmites bring this extraordinary underground network of caves to life.
8. The Loire Valley: the ‘Garden of France’
Often referred to as the ‘Garden of France’, the Loire Valle was once the stomping ground of French royalty and nobility. Today, it is one of the most iconic places to visit in France. This is owing to its 300 elaborate chateaux, some of which date back as far as the 9th century. Unsurprisingly, many of these have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. While all of them are beautifully maintained and come with their own story, some are more revered than others.
With its stunning French architecture and surrounding deer-filled parks, for instance, Château of Chambord is considered to be one the most beautiful in the valley. Meanwhile, hovering over the Cher River, the Château de Chenonceau is revered for its mixture of Gothic and Renaissance architecture and its large collection of tapestries. The fairytale-like Château de Sully-sur-Loire, on the other hand, offers a more medieval beauty and famously once hosted Joan of Arc and Louis XIV.
Of course, with so many beautiful chateaux to explore, you might want to mix things up by visiting one of the numerous vineyards dotted throughout the region. After all, the valley is famous for its world-class wines, with many local winemakers inviting the public to tour their cellars and sample their varieties.
9. Auvergne–Rhône–Alpes: the land that time forgot
Nestled in the heart of central France, the Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Nature Park is the largest volcanic ensemble in Europe and a reminder of the prehistoric age. Covering 395,000 hectares of land, the park is home to four volcanic massifs. These have laid dormant for thousands of years. Reaching an altitude of 1,465 meters, the Puy de Dôme is the highest volcano in the region. Visitors from all over the world come to admire these sleeping giants and hike, cycle, or hop on balloon flights over the peaks.
The ancient volcanoes have also created hot springs and mineral waters which have made Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes a popular thermal spa destination. In fact, this is where Vichy, Badoit, and Volvic water comes from. Aside from volcanoes and spas, there are many medieval towns, abbeys, and castle ruins to explore in the region, too. Therefore, if you are looking to enjoy a relaxing getaway in France, this is a great option.
10. Corsica: the ‘Island of Beauty’
Step onto the beautiful Mediterranean island of Corsica and you might soon forget which country you are in. After all, the unique location of the island between France and Italy means that it embraces the best of both cultures. And the famous birthplace of Napoleon certainly lives up to its nickname, the ‘Island of Beauty’. Stylish coastal towns, rocky granite peaks, and pristine forests give it a beautiful yet wild appeal that attracts nature lovers. Boasting 1,000-kilometers of heavenly turquoise coastline, it is also a hotspot for snorkeling and scuba diving. Those who prefer to simply sunbathe, however, can do so on one of the many pristine beaches.
Despite its international appeal, the picturesque island of Corsica has managed to retain its own culture and charm. You might catch some of this while listening to a traditional polyphonic song; or visiting a village festival or religious procession. And don’t be surprised if you stumble upon a donkey or two while hiking in the countryside; the island is home to an abundance of free-roaming wildlife including pigs, cows, goats, and sheep. Thankfully, however, there are no dangerous snakes!